Editor’s Note: Written during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Malaysian marketplace writer Ivan Tan’s maiden book “What If You Could Complete Jeremiah in 8 Weeks?” goes through the whole book of Jeremiah one chapter at a time. Tan, who is Malaysian Chinese worships at the Metro Tabernacle A/G. In a recent interview with China Christian Daily, Tan talked about the first devotional work he has published and how it shed light on the world under the pandemic as well as our daily life. He also shared some useful advice on daily devotion or meditation for the benefit of other common people.
China Christian Daily: Could you please introduce yourself and your new book to us?
Ivan Tan: My name is Ivan Tan or in Chinese 陈添宝, I was born and bred in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I started my professional life in IT, and after 5 years I was awarded a scholarship to study Finance in Australia. Upon graduation, I returned to work for my ex-employer dealing with import-export of people-friendly products like organic foods. Not long after that, my brother and I started a property magazine, I then spent about nine years building up the magazine before venturing out on my own as a Partner of Rightwiz (a content writing and publishing company). At the moment I am working as a content writer and publisher with Rightwiz. I have been delivering professional content for industries such as real estate, tourism, education and sometimes in verticals like tech, science, and life pieces.
What If You Could Complete Jeremiah in 8 Weeks? is my very first book after writing and publishing many volumes in different business genres for my clients since 2006. It is a devotional book that was written during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a chapter-by-chapter devotion, it can accompany readers in their daily Bible reading, to follow the events written by Jeremiah and draw inspiration from it to abide in a closer walk with God. In a way, I hope it can pose a challenge for people to finish Jeremiah in 8 Weeks.
China Christian Daily: How did you come to write this book?
Ivan Tan: It began just as a casual daily meditation in mid-February 2020. From that morning’s devotion, I was prompted to read Jeremiah and I recorded my devotional experience in my blog at RightKingdom.com just as I sometimes would do. And then when it came to the next day, I was able to write something again. It went on smoothly maybe up to the fifth or seventh day with one chapter a day.
It was very rare that I got to journal every day this consistently, so I challenged myself, why not continue to journal the whole book? Also, since it was the COVID-19 season with most people limiting their outside movements, I thought this could be an opportunity for me to actually take on and complete the challenge. After making the decision, I almost fell off my chair because I had not realized it had 52 chapters! But I thought if God was with me, then I can do it. So, I meditated one chapter a day and tried to keep it that way, although at times I needed more days due to other work commitments.
China Christian Daily: What are the highlights and main ideas of this book?
Ivan Tan: Throughout the book of Jeremiah, I think the main highlight is obedience, and the supporting highlight is the potential to transform our lives. And these are the key messages of my book as well.
From the book of Jeremiah, we can see that God has been calling people to come back to God and worship him alone. He wanted obedience on this matter. If we are obedient to worship him, our life will be different - we will be under his care and walk in the light. Although storms might still happen, we will be protected and even though we die, we know we will go back to be with him. That is the journey of life that He wants us to live on earth. There are also other themes, including repentance, forgiveness, love, etc. But the general message is obedience.
China Christian Daily: How did you write devotions, and how is each chapter and each devotional piece structured?
Ivan Tan: In this book, each piece is for one chapter in Jeremiah. The writing was very fluid and a little creative. I read one chapter each morning as the first thing I did, then I would seek the Lord for his guidance and direction, and the revelation sometimes came immediately but it could also take days or longer. Then I would relate it with either my life, relationships, or workplace, including things that happened years ago.
Usually, for each devotional piece, there is an extract from the Bible, then the description of the text, my thoughts and things that I wanted to share or alert people with, then sometimes it ends with a prayer. For every single chapter, there is a different essence of the message. Non-Christians might think Christianity only talks about “love”, but we know that God has more to say to us.
China Christian Daily: We learned that this is your first book, and that you are neither a professional Christian book writer nor a Bible teacher, and a lot of your work-related writing is about real estate, and other fields. Do you think these features of your background provide a different perspective for your writing of this book?
Ivan Tan: I think a person’s writing is very much influenced by their background, their experience, and the life that they are going through. In fact, the more diverse the experience, the more it contributes to the thinking process. My experience in the real estate magazine and other industries revealed to me that people from these different industries think differently, behave differently, have different views about life and the world. All of these experiences enhance my writing and contribute to how I relate to the words from Jeremiah.
I included reflections on my experiences in my devotionals, some were mistakes and regrets, some were very rewarding times. And I think this makes the book a real compelling read.
Before this book, I had planned to produce another book some years back where the manuscript was reviewed by my pastor (Pastor Chin) so I could avoid any misinterpretation of the scripture. He made many comments, including what was good, what was wrong, what was too sensitive and should not be elaborated, etc. I took all these comments into consideration when I began work on this Jeremiah book and it helped me immensely to stay on the right path.
China Christian Daily: You mentioned that when you read the Book of Jeremiah during the lockdown, you found it very relevant to the world under the pandemic. Could you tell us more about this, as in, how the book of Jeremiah speaks to us now? What’s the heart of God for us?
Ivan Tan: In Jeremiah, there are passages that are directly pertinent to the COVID-19 situation. In Chapter 19 for example, v10: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: ... They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room.’ From the doom and gloom of COVID-19, I believe we’ve all heard how there is no more room for burial in some places.
God’s heart for us has always been that he loves us. In Jeremiah, God meted out His instructions that if they were not going to repent and follow him, there would be a plan of destruction, diseases and violence. However, at the end of each of those messages, God would say that if you repent, you will be forgiven.
China Christian Daily: Personally, what do you think about COVID-19? Do you think it was human sinning and disobedience that brought the pandemic? Some Christians think that people must repent when such huge disasters take place, what do you think about this?
Ivan Tan: In my book, I touched on this question. I think each of us should reflect on ourselves. Whether or not COVID-19 happened because of our wrongdoings, let it be an instrument to correct our posture and begin to seek God. I am really not in an authoritative position to judge, but I can only say it can be an instrument to remind us to seek God again. In every tragedy, there is such a chance to reflect and come back to God. But I also think it’s important to move away from the expectation of instant gratification, that we repent today, and we become a billionaire tomorrow.
China Christian Daily: It seems that this book is quite Covid-related and was written in the height of the pandemic. Now as many countries are lifting restrictions and going back to a more normal life, would you say that this devotional is still relevant in this post-COVID situation?
Ivan Tan: I believe this book can be a timeless book, beyond the COVID-19 era. The Bible itself is timeless, and the messages in Jeremiah are timeless. The issues raised in the book include a lot about human character, including love, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, restoration, servanthood, as well as warnings about the prosperity gospel, his power, his promises, discernment, purpose, discipline, commitment, loyalty, legacy, and many other things. The values and principles written in this book, derived from and inspired by God’s word will continue to be relevant and purposeful for our lives.
China Christian Daily: You mentioned that you found that Jeremiah is surprisingly reflective of the modern society and professional marketplace. Can you please give us some specific examples?
Ivan Tan: For example, in Jeremiah 27, God informed Jeremiah that the kings will be serving Nebuchadnezzar and told them what would happen.
God spoke to the kings through Jeremiah because the kings were the leaders and had responsibilities over their people. In our workplace, similar things might happen where leaders need the wisdom to honor their roles, such as when your company is acquired by another which leads to leadership changes.
Similarly, Jeremiah 22 offers the way we should be as a leader, to be fair and just and not to oppress. Chapter 32 touched on buying lands, agreements, contracts and witnesses; chapter 34 mentioned slavery, and chapter 38 touched on negotiation, and so on.
China Christian Daily: Could you give some advice on reading or meditating on the books of the prophets, since they could be considered hard to read, or seemingly repetitive? Particularly for common people who may not have much time to dive into Bible reading every day.
Ivan Tan: Regarding the question of prophets being hard to read, I’d like to say that, apart from calling His people back, Jeremiah does include other messages. And even though it might feel repetitive or boring, you can turn back to ask yourself: do you want to know more? Do you really want to know the essence of the message? Do you want to equip yourself? If we have this mindset, we will be able to search the scripture for the answer.
When we read, it’s okay to not understand the first time. Just read it again, then we should allow ourselves some space to visualize what God was trying to tell us through the passage and frame it in the context that it was written in. Revelation can emerge at any time or sometimes not at all. But don’t despair because sometimes, without you knowing, the meaning of what we’ve just read will emerge in the next hour or halfway through the week or so.
As for busy people, I believe wholeheartedly that the Lord will speak to us at every moment if only we are ready to listen to Him. In that regard, we should always find ways and means to connect with Him. It is always important to remind ourselves that our time with God is special, so special that the two of us deserve some time alone. The time alone with God is all about quality. When we quiet down to seek him and prepare our hearts to hear from him, we will be amazed at what can transpire.
If we’re truly busy, and God is a loving and gracious Father to us, He will understand our struggles if we are genuinely missing Him. With our desires made known to Him that we want to spend time with Him, believe it or not, He will arrange our time so we can commune with Him too at the right time. By then, we just have to be ready to enjoy our time with Him.
China Christian Daily: Do you have any words for Chinese Christians?
Ivan Tan: Whatever the situation may be in China, if one has been touched by God and come to know that He is the real God, just inscribe it in your heart that the relationship with him is real and he truly is our Abba Father, and it is our privilege to be connected with him.
Secondly, I would say being a Christian opens up a whole new dimension of life perspectives that may have escaped us when we weren’t yet a believer. Just allow yourself the time to learn about it and be immersed in it when time and space permit. The fruit of our labour will certainly be rewarded in many ways when we have our faith in the Lord.
Thirdly, as life can take us on a journey unique to only our own, be ready for all the bountiful life lessons that he has prepared for us. In all things, know that his wisdom is the highest, and in earnest give glory to him for all our success and even failure.
Life is not all about a scorecard but one that sees us obedient, aligned with God, and worship him as the one true and living God, just like how he has commanded his people from the ancient days until now.